I just returned from my annual trip to Gettysburg battlefield this past weekend, usually an exciting and enjoyable trip. This trip had the added allure of viewing the new visitor’s center for the first time. Upon entering the parking lot to the new center, I felt as though I was entering an amusement park. There was a line of cars searching for spots in the vast new parking area. The visitor’s center reminded me of a mall, complete with a bookstore and movie theatre. The bookstore resembled a Barnes and Noble except the prices of books were much more inflated. The line to the ticket counter and theatre was roped off as if one were waiting for a rollercoaster ride. The price of admission to the twenty-two minute film was eight dollars – approximately the same price of admission to a two-hour blockbuster. The only thing missing was a Starbucks.

After this initial disappointment, my buddy and I decided the only thing that could cheer us up was a couple of hikes on the battlefield, and we hit upon two excellent ones. An hour hike/lecture around the peach orchard was very insightful; arguing that Sickle’s misplacement of troops threw a wrench into both Lee’s and Meade’s plans. After this, we took a hike with renowned park ranger, Troy Harman, all the way up to the top of Big Round Top. Troy was preparing for an anniversary hike on “What would have happened had Lee listened to Longstreet and went around the right of Big Round Top?”

After these hikes and a general survey of most of the battlefield, we observed an ironic consequence of the building of the new visitor’s center. The battlefield was not as congested as the new plaza. It seems that more people were viewing the exhibits in the center rather then touring the fields. The peach orchard hike had an audience of six people. The Troy Harman tour had much more but this is an exception given his popularity. The old center invited visitors to walk right onto the battlefield or cemetery. The new one offers people the luxury of viewing the virtual battlefield from the convenience of an air-conditioned building.

Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the old visitor’s center much more. It was small, but it was much more authentic and not as commercialized. On the bright side, for battlefield enthusiasts, the new visitor’s center may be a blessing in disguise – more room to explore the actual landscape.